When it comes time to reflect on Peyton Manning's career, it's hard to find a place to begin. He retires as the league's all-time leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns. He won two Super Bowl rings. He won a record five MVP awards - two more than anyone else. He overcame a serious neck injury to continue his record-breaking career.
Manning's resume is one that stacks up well against anyone in league history, making a very compelling case for him truly being the G.O.A.T. That debate and discussion will rage on in the coming days, but even that isn't the entire story. Sure, everyone will focus on the numbers, on the awards, on the rings - but Peyton Manning's legacy goes far beyond that.
All you need to do is take a look around Indianapolis and around the NFL to get an idea of just how influential the future Hall of Famer has been. The Rams recently relocated from St. Louis to Los Angeles, and it was impossible not to have this thought: if it weren't for Peyton Manning, that very well could be - perhaps even likely would have been - the Colts, and it could have come years earlier. The fact that the Colts don't simply play in Indianapolis still but are embraced by the city is a testament to Manning's legacy. Take Lucas Oil Stadium, the home of the Colts that has hosted a Super Bowl, Final Four, and numerous other events: if it weren't for Peyton Manning, there would be no fancy new stadium in downtown Indianapolis. When people refer to it as "the House that Manning Built," they're only slightly exaggerating - he didn't actually build it, but it wouldn't have been built without him. The stadium standing in the Indianapolis skyline is a testament to Manning's legacy. The same goes for the countless children in Indiana named "Peyton," or those playing high school football because they grew up watching number 18 wear the horseshoe. When Manning arrived, the state of Indiana and the city of Indianapolis were wholeheartedly basketball country. Gradually, over time, it became Colts country. Kids grew up with Manning as their hero, and he inspired them. A state known for basketball was put on the map for their team's incredible success in football. That, too, is a testament to Manning's legacy.
It wouldn't be a stretch to say that Peyton Manning saved football in Indianapolis. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that Peyton Manning is the greatest and most influential athlete to ever play in the city. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that Peyton Manning is the best to ever wear the horseshoe, regardless of city. How do you honor that? The Ring of Honor is a given, and owner Jim Irsay has already said no one will wear the number 18 jersey again for the Colts. Many have suggested a statue outside of Lucas Oil Stadium, while others have suggested renaming a street in Indy in honor of Manning. All of that seems appropriate, fitting, and well-deserved - and then some. Manning's impact on the city of Indianapolis is truly hard to measure, and we haven't even began to mention the countless acts he did off the field to better the community and help everyone he could.
There are those who could tell stories for hours of Manning's generosity, almost always unnoticed and unmentioned publicly. He didn't want it to be front and center; he simply wanted to help people and use the platform he had in whatever way he could to encourage others. I don't know what you need to do to have a children's hospital named after you, but I'd say that stands as a testament to the impact Manning has had. He's not simply a distant namesake, either - he's involved, and he cares. From phone calls to letters, Manning always tried to encourage everyone he could. He wasn't the celebrity athlete you simply saw on television; he was a part of Indianapolis. It was his home. Manning's impact on the community of Indianapolis is equally hard to measure, and it's a large reason why so many looked up to him.
It's not just the city of Indianapolis that stands as a testament to Manning's legacy, however: it's the modern NFL as we know it. The year before Manning arrived in the NFL, there were zero quarterbacks who threw for 4,000 yards and five who threw for at least 25 touchdowns. In Manning's rookie season, there were two who topped 4,000 yards passing and six who notched at least 25 scoring tosses. By comparison, in 2015 there were 12 quarterbacks who threw for at least 4,000 yards and 14 who threw for at least 25 touchdowns. The progression is easy to see, and it's easy to trace too: teams saw what Peyton Manning and Tom Moore were doing in Indianapolis and said, "hmm, that might work." It did in Indianapolis, and it began to translate around the league. Another way to look at it is through the usage of the shotgun: in 1998, quarterbacks were in the shotgun on 9.4% of plays, while the Colts utilized it 22.7% of the time - well above league average. Through the years, the NFL adjusted to Manning and Moore's offense, so much so that in 2015 quarterbacks were in the shotgun on 61.7% of snaps.
Throughout it all, Manning has been at the forefront of the modern passing revolution. He ranked in the top five in the NFL in passing touchdowns in 16 of 17 seasons in which he played, with the only outlier coming in 2015 when he struggled and also missed six games. When it came to passing yards, Manning ranked in the top five in the league in 12 different seasons - including each of his first seven. Four times he led the league in passing touchdowns, while three times he led the league in passing yards. As the NFL has transitioned into a passing league, they have done so while following in the mold of Peyton Manning, Tom Moore, and the Colts. Even the modern NFL, therefore, is a testament to Manning's legacy.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Manning's personal accomplishments on the field as well, as they're staggering. 71,940 passing yards, the most all-time. 539 touchdown passes, the most in NFL history. 14 seasons with at least 4,000 yards passing, the most ever (four ahead of Drew Brees, who has ten and is the only other player in double-digits). 16 seasons with at least 25 passing touchdowns. Five NFL MVP Awards. 14 Pro Bowls. Seven first-team All-Pro berths. Two Offensive Player of the Year awards and a Comeback Player of the Year trophy. 15 playoff appearances and 12 division titles. Four AFC Championships and two Lombardi Trophies. Five Thirty Eight looked at Manning's career and found that he was good enough to be a Hall of Famer - twice!
The memories are too many to count. Who can forget the 2006 AFC Championship, Manning's crowning achievement with the Colts? Down 21-3, Manning led the Colts back to a thrilling victory to finally get past the New England Patriots and reach the Super Bowl. Seeing him hoist the long-sought-after Lombardi two weeks later was the perfect culmination, and the look of joy and relief on Manning's face said it all. Nobody can forget that 2004 record-breaking season either, still arguably the best season a quarterback has ever had in league history. Manning was absolutely and totally dominant, shattering the record books with a scoring toss to Brandon Stokley late in the fourth quarter of a win against the Chargers. The best part about it? Manning getting the Colts to the line for the two-point conversion try to tie the game - and handing it to Edgerrin James on the draw. So perfect, and so Peyton - always getting his team in the right play at the right time. It was always a chess match when the quarterback was on the field, and he almost always won. Those audibles - "Omaha!" comes to mind, as does "Apple, Apple!" - are legendary. When Manning was on top of his game, he was almost unstoppable - the 2009 AFC Championship game against a very good Jets defense rings a bell, for example.
Then in 2011, Manning missed the entire season due to a neck injury as his team - the one he had carried for so many years - collapsed without their quarterback. The Colts struggled and slumped to a 2-14 record, and there was a lot of uncertainty about whether Manning would ever play again. In the midst of that uncertainty and with the NFL's next certainty at quarterback in Andrew Luck coming available, the Colts cut their longtime quarterback. At the time, it was very much unclear whether Manning would ever come back, much less as a successful player. It's hard to remember that there was a time when he couldn't even complete passes to his former teammate Todd Helton. There was a time when his only throwing was lob passes to his wife Ashley. There was a time when it seemed Peyton Manning might be forced into retirement due to a serious and uncertain neck injury. Instead, Manning went on to win the Comeback Player of the Year Award in 2012, the NFL MVP Award in 2013, throw for 17,112 yards and 140 touchdowns, make two Super Bowls, and win one of them - after the injury.
I've rambled long enough here, but I've hardly even scratched the surface of what could be said about Peyton Manning. Heck, even his departure from the Colts was executed perfectly. On March 7, 2012, an emotional Peyton Manning, voice cracking, uttered this statement as he concluded his statement about being released by the Colts: "And as I go, I go with just a few words left to say, a few words I want to address to Colts fans everywhere. Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart. I truly have enjoyed being your quarterback. Thank you."
Actually, Peyton, those are words that Colts fans everywhere want to address to you. Thank you very much from the bottom of our hearts; we truly have enjoyed you being our quarterback.